Progressive Hypocracy

Self-described "progressives" on the left have gone nuts over the past several years over creeping legislative and regulatory inroads made by religious conservatives.  Fascism! They are quick to reply.  The government can't tell us what to do with our own bodies, or in the privacy of our own homes!  Abortion, homosexuality?  Hey, that's our choice, its our bodies.  NSA eavesdropping, warrant-less searches?  Hey, those are our private phonecalls made from our private phones.  Searches of private cars without probable cause to enforce seat belt use?  Hey, what a great idea!

Boston Globe columnist Scot LeHigh editorializes against Massachusetts Democrats attempt to micro-regulate personal behavior:

THIS WEEK, the Massachusetts House of Representatives will face a telling test:
Can it resist a progressive Legislature's ever-present impulse toward pesky
paternalism?

The issue is seat belts, and whether the police will be allowed to stop
motorists upon suspicion that someone in their vehicle is not wearing a seat
belt or only ticket them for that grievous offense if they have first been
pulled over for something else.

This is exactly why I am suspicious of progressives and resist making common cause with them, even on issues where we tend to agree.  For while they talk the libertarian talk pretty well when they want to (abortion with its "I should control decisions over my own body" defense being the most obvious example), progressives also have a very strong streak of "we are smarter than you are and sometimes will tell you what to do because it is for your own good".   As a result, for example, progressives support abortion because a woman should make decisions for her body without government intrusion, but oppose the legality of breast implants and vioxx because a woman should, uh, not be able to make decisions for her body without government intrusion (more on this here).

And what decision could be more about my own body than what level of protection I want to afford myself in a vehicle?  If I choose, for whatever reason, not to wear a motorcycle helmet or a seatbelt, who cares?  It may be a really, really stupid choice on my part, but its my decision for my own body, right?  (By the way, I know that some people will make the 'taxpayers pay for your medical care argument', which I dealt with earlier in my post about government health care funding as a Trojan horse for fascism).

But even beyond the issue of individual decision-making, what about the 4th amendment issues?  It is amazing but true that progressives and the Massachusetts legislature, who would never in a million years give the police, the FBI, or anyone under George Bush's chain of command the right to stop a motorist without probable cause to check for evidence of terrorist intent, are actually endorsing that the police have this power to stop motorists without probable cause for freaking seat belt use.  Is this really the alternative we are being offered today - you can choose fascism to stanch the threat of terrorism or you can choose fascism to increase seat belt use? 

I predict that the left may come to regret setting this precedent, as they have come to regret other expansions of government power that their political enemies have used as stepping stones for their own agenda.  A good example is Title IX, which is beloved by the left for using the fact of federal funding to browbeat even private universities into changing their admissions policies, but has been used as a precedent by the right to browbeat private universities into accepting military recruiters.  Government micro-managing of individual decision-making is only fun as long as you and your gang are the ones doing the micro-managing.

I would love to see someone in Washington making a consistent case for freedom of decision-making for individuals when the decision affects only themselves or others with whom they are interacting in a consensual manner.  But I am not holding my breath.

  • BobH

    Your point on leftists' intermittent interest in personal freedom is valid of course.

    On the less important issue of freedom of choice re seatbelt, I in general agree that it is a victimless "crime" -- except as regards insurance. I am a victim of those who choose not to wear seatbelts because my insurance rates are commensurately higher.

    The solution would be to allow people to choose not to wear seatbelts, with the understanding that they cannot in case of accident collect damages (on the basis of contributory negligence).

    That, however, would mean that their medical costs would (in many cases) be pushed back on the state -- which resurrects the "state interest" argument.

  • http://www.linesinthesand.net Doug Murray

    Recently, while writing a letter to an editor about motorcycle helmets, it occurred to me that privacy arguments might carry more weight than liberty with many people. Of course, the die-hard nannies won't be convinced, but they may find it harder to make a case against privacy in a country that doesn't really seem place much value on liberty any more.

    I see liberty and privacy as synonyms, but whether or not that's correct, they do have an awful lot of overlap.

  • The Man

    As valiant as your battle against the "taxpayers pay your medical care" argument may have been, you are totally missing the point. The state does not want you to injure yourself, simply because you are their property. You produce whatever it is you produce, and it promotes the general welfare of the state, and the state spent money on some gratuitous attempt to educate you so you could do that. That's all business of the state. You think we're going to let you drive around without a motorcycle helmet and risk losing our investment?

    No man is an island, Mr. Coyoteblog. We invested in you whether you like it or not, and we have bigger guns than you, so we plan to make good on our investment.

  • http://www.ponderingdilettante.blogspot.com/ James R Ament

    Excellent post; and The Man's comment is spot on... "The crucial distinction between political systems is between those who do, and those who do not, think that the citizen should be 'the property of the state' - An idea from Adam Michnik, former Polish dissident, Solidarity activist, and newspaper publisher."

  • http://www.ponderingdilettante.blogspot.com/ James R Ament

    Excellent post; and The Man's comment is spot on... "The crucial distinction between political systems is between those who do, and those who do not, think that the citizen should be 'the property of the state' - An idea from Adam Michnik, former Polish dissident, Solidarity activist, and newspaper publisher."

  • Marina

    I love the way you've pointed out the inconsistencies of the left.

    Here's another....people shouldn't be allowed to invest their Social Security dollars in their own choice of retirement plans, as they may be irresponsible with the money and make the wrong choices. The government should make those decisions for you.

    That spoken from someone who follows the contention that you shouldn't have anyone telling you what you can do with your own body.
    Partial-birth abortion? Why not? It's YOUR body.